Why Ambassador Justin Mohamed is leading the world on First Nations issues

Tyler Mitchell By Tyler Mitchell Jun25,2024
Marching down a corridor into a packed stadium, led out by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander flags, Justin Mohamed strides out into the arena.
Today the Gooreng Gooreng man is leading a delegation of 80 First Nations men and women, and all eyes are on him.

With the sounds of yidaki and clap sticks echoing throughout the stadium, excitement begins to build.

Mr Mohamed is handed a microphone.
“In our culture, our song, our dance and cultural expression have and continue to provide us with connections,” he says.

“For after thousands of years we come here, strong and proud. ‘Cause we know who we are, where we come from. Always was, always will be!”

Justin Muhamed's opening ceremony address

Justin Muhamed’s opening ceremony address Credit: Living Black

A loud applause from the thousands of people seated in the stands erupts.

They’ve heard this cry before from across the ocean. Now this time the cry comes loudly in Hawai’i, of all places.
Mohamed is front and centre on the world stage.

Media and dignitaries from around the Pacific Ocean are gathered as he addresses the Hawaiian State Governor Josh Green and the Hawaiian people at the opening of the 13th Festival of Pacific Art and Culture (FestPAC), this year being held in sunny Honolulu.

Thumbnail of Justin Mohamed - On The World Stage

Justin Mohamed – On The World Stage

But it’s no coincidence that he is leading this delegation. As the inaugural Ambassador for First Nations People, it’s his job to be front and centre representing.
“This is a pretty important time of the calendar, not just for Australia and my role here, but for all the Pacific to be at the FestPAC conference together,” Mohamed tells Living Black.
“With all the other Pacific Nations that are representing their peoples altogether in one place.”
The FestPAC delegation is the biggest delegation he’s led on the world stage, and by far one of the most important moments in his career. It’s little wonder Mohamed feels excited.
“To have the opportunity to come together collectively altogether doesn’t happen that often.

“So to talk about not only sharing our culture and the strength that we bring, but also talking about some of the challenges we are facing in our communities that we have, along with our aspirations; Yeah, it’s fantastic.”

Birth of an ambassador

Being the inaugural Ambassador for First Nations Peoples hasn’t come without its challenges.
Being the first of its kind in the world, there was no blueprint to follow, so figuring out how the role would work was Mohamed’s first hurdle.

After establishing an office in the Department of Foreign Affairs under Senator Penny Wong’s oversight, the priority quickly became to get the foundation of the role firmly established.

Justin Mohamed sits down with Living Black host, Karla Grant

Justin Mohamed sits down with Living Black host, Karla Grant Credit: Living Black

“I’m now 12 months into a role that has never existed before” he told Living Black’s Karla Grant.

“So it’s about making sure we get the foundations right, so that [in the future] whoever comes next into this role can build upon that, and then the next person can build upon that.
“So we’ve been working very closely with [the minister’s] office on this.”

When the position of First Nations Ambassador was announced in early 2023, there was still the prospect of the role working with the proposed Voice to Parliament.

Concerns that the role may have been window dressing were raised, but once Mohamed began the role, his fears were relieved.
“It’s not just window dressing; it’s not just another project that a department’s just thought about.
“The basis of the role was already there to ensure that we have our First Nations expertise and our knowledges right across all our foreign affairs.”

With the failure of the referendum campaign, Ambassador Mohamed has found himself busier than ever, saying that his role has since generated more and more conversations.

People wanna speak, especially internationally, about what are Australia’s next steps.

Working with other nations

Since taking on his position as Ambassador, Justin hasn’t sat still.
He’s already travelled to several Pacific nations to speak about First Nations issues including Nauru and several times to the United States.
Ambassador Mohamed is also planning a trip to New Zealand with hopes of better understanding the motivations behind the new conservative governments plans to roll back the Treaty of Waitangi.

“I think that decision should be concerning for all First Nations people.”

Justin Mohamed

Justin Mohamed Credit: Living Black

Knowing the challenges faced in the last year since the referendum, Mohamed believes that building momentum domestically for Indigenous issues can be compounded internationally.

“We know how hard it is domestically; but internationally, to continue to build the momentum to have the rights of Indigenous peoples represented at the appropriate levels that they should be; when we see steps taken backwards it’s always something which causes some concern.”
However, Ambassador Mohamed isn’t concerned that the new direction from the New Zealand government towards treaty will have any direct impacts on any of Australia’s treaty discussions.

“We set our own path and we shouldn’t be deterred or impacted by that.”

Future of foreign policy

With one more year to go in his role as Ambassador, Mohamed is positive about the future; trade and climate change discussions in the Pacific are his primary focus.
While in Hawai’i, the Ambasssador spoke on several climate changes panels discussing what can be done to help our Pacific neighbours.

“Climate’s gonna be an ongoing with every conversation we have. I think we can’t avoid it. It’s gonna be part of everything that we do.”

The Ambassador is also looking to find the right voices who can speak internationally about what First Nations people are capable of, and sharing Indigenous knowledge.
“We have the solutions [to] many of the global issues,” he says confidently.
Mohamed’s biggest priority, however, is to build the structures needed to ensure that the government commitment to having First Nations people across foreign policies into the future remains.
“No matter who’s the minister or which government’s in play, or what crisis we are, we are dealing with, that will be a continuing part of the team of foreign affairs for Australia for here and many years to come.”

“That’s my ambition.”

Tyler Mitchell

By Tyler Mitchell

Tyler is a renowned journalist with years of experience covering a wide range of topics including politics, entertainment, and technology. His insightful analysis and compelling storytelling have made him a trusted source for breaking news and expert commentary.

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